Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why I'm Passionate about Unschooling

I am a very open person.  I will talk about pretty much anything.  I am emotional, opinionated and expressive. As Adrian Monk would say, "It's a gift....and a curse."

Oddly, the topic I have been reluctant to blog about is unschooling: the style of homeschooling our family settled into after years of searching for the right fit.  I've always gone against the grain.  But, somehow, turning my nose at formal education feels...almost sacrilegious. When our homeschooling style comes up in conversation, I'm happy to discuss it, but broadcasting it to the world (ok, a very small, tiny, portion of the world) feels big to me.

But, when the opportunity to write an article "Why I'm Passionate about Unschooling" came up, I jumped at the chance.  I consider it a coming out of sorts.  Writing it was therapeutic and strengthened my confidence in our choice.

Yesterday, the magazine arrived in the mail.  I gotta say, I'm very excited to be in an actual magazine!

I would love to hear your feedback.  I am happy to answer any questions you have about unschooling and our process.

So, here you go!  My article in Greenhouse, a publication of North Carolinians for Home Education. 

Why I’m Passionate About Unschooling

     My name is Melissa and I’m an unschooler. I will admit that I’m more comfortable saying that now than I ever have been before. These days nobody blinks at the idea of homeschooling. But, I usually get some sort of reaction to telling people that we unschool. Sometimes, it’s genuine curiosity (Really? What is unschooling?) Sometimes, it’s confusion (How will your kids learn to speak if you don’t teach them grammar?) Sometimes, it’s good-hearted teasing by family members who think I’m just a little bit nuts (I think she even unschools her dogs!) However it comes up, I’m always willing and happy to talk about it!

      There are five in our family: my husband, Doug; me; our 17 year old son, Jackson; our 15 year old son, Nathan; and our 9 year old daughter, Gianna. We started homeschooling Jackson in kindergarten “just to see” and have never looked back. The first few years, we followed a curriculum. Actually, we were never very good at following a curriculum, but the first few years, we tried.

      We started moving toward unschooling after reading Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto. It was great for me because it got me thinking about education beyond the institution of school. After that I read a few books by John Holt. I had never read books that so resounded with me. The idea of unschooling really made sense to Doug, too. It was a gradual transition toward unchooling. Letting go of formal academics is not easy when it is all you’ve ever known. But, now, we are full-fledged unschoolers.

      There are about as many different ways to unschool as there are families who unschool. We focus mostly on interests, natural strengths and relationships. More than just trying to encourage our kids to learn, though, Doug and I model curiosity and daily learning. We mostly learn just by living life: going for walks, watching TV, playing games, having conversations with a wide variety of people, going places, discussing ideas, going to the store, volunteering, looking at magazines, hanging out with friends, listening to music, asking our dear friend, Google, lots of questions, doing nothing, and yes, sometimes we even learn by reading a book!

      I heard a fellow unschooler say that when she is asked when they do school, her answer is, “always and never.” I love that! Learning in our life isn’t compartmentalized at all. We fundamentally trust that our kids will learn what they need to know to function in life, and to be lifelong learners without coercion from us, but with an open mind and a willingness to help them succeed.

      I recently read this quote by Robert Brault and my heart leaped. Yes! This is how I want to be with our kids! "Do not ask that your kids live up to your expectations. Let your kids be who they are, and your expectations will be in breathless pursuit." With that, let me tell you a little about the kids that my expectations are pursuing.

      Jackson, 17, is our oldest child. He is a kind, bright, devoted, funny, and sometimes rigid guy who loves music, video games, Minecraft, physics and astronomy. He is one of the most loyal and considerate people I know. He has taken Latin with his best friends for the past four years. With minimal preparation and a relatively small amount of formal academics in his lifetime, Jackson passed the GED and has begun taking classes at Grand Canyon University.

      Nathan is 15. He is incredibly fun, funny, and quick-witted, sensitive, creative and boisterous. Nathan is amazing with people. I remember when he was about 8 or 9, a new family had moved in next door. One afternoon he said to me, “Mom. I’ll be right back. I’m going to go meet the new neighbors.” That’s just Nathan. He also loves video games, Minecraft, music, Latin and Lego. He is just as happy playing music with Jackson as he is playing “Spies” with his younger sister.

      Gianna, our 9 year old daughter, is spirited, creative, shy, and has a laugh that is absolutely contagious. Gianna chooses her friends very carefully. She has a great sense of style. She loves learning about the U.S. presidents, animals (especially baby animals) and China. Gianna is a spelling whiz and the only one of our kids who has always been unschooled. She knows more geography than I do!

      I think the best thing unschooling has done for our family is that it's taken the power struggle out of our day. What has been so cool for me, personally, is seeing how learning really can happen without coercion. Because they get to choose most of what they do throughout the day, the kids are usually happy to help out or change directions when I ask them to.

      The way Doug and I see things is that it is very important to help our kids know who they are and what they are good at. We want them to love learning, know how to think, know how to develop close relationships and to love and serve God, be tolerant of others, etc., etc.

      We have discovered a lot through our unschooling journey – a journey that we are still on. One thing is that this lifestyle really works for us. I know it isn't for everyone, just like I know homeschooling isn't for everyone. It works very well with our parenting style. I have actually been amazed at how much "school" stuff my kids have learned on their own or with my help, but at their request. They remember just about everything they learn and they do what they do well.

      I’m passionate about unschooling because it’s just who we are.



  1. Great article, Melissa!

  2. Thanks for sharing......love you neighbor!

  3. Love it. Love you. Love that we have so many options. :)

    1. Thanks, Bethany! Yes, we are very lucky to be able to choose the form of education that works best for our family, and for each kid individually.

  4. Very nice!

    I LOVE the part when you said, "There are about as many different ways to unschool as there are families who unschool."

    We also unschool and are learning and growing with it too. It's a great journey.



    1. Thanks, Kathy! It really is a great journey. Off to check out your blog! :)

  5. Love it! I lean semi-unschoolish, but am married to someone who leans school-at-homeish, so we compromise by being more loosey-goosey in the early years and a little more structured in the high school years. Working well for us, but I love love love your post about how your family does it. Beautifully written!

    1. Thank you so much! It sounds like you guys have it down pretty well. :)